Top positive review
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on 12 October 2012
It is a sweltering summer in Newark, New Jersey, 1944, and Bucky Cantor is a young man working as a playground supervisor. Bucky is a kind, brave and upstanding young man who suffers a great deal of guilt throughout this novel. First, his guilt is based around the fact that his absent father was a thief and a petty criminal. Brought up by his loving grandparents, Bucky wants to make the memory of his adored grandfather proud and live up to the aspirations and success of his girlfriend and her family. Bucky also has a sense of shame about not being able to fight in the war as his friends are, he is a young man with excellent health, but poor eyesight. Still, the children at the playground adore and look up to him, and Bucky does his best to keep them safe and entertained during the hot, long, summer days.
Tragedy strikes in the form of a polio epidemic, for this is before the days of a vaccine or successful treatment, when polio could mean death, permanent disability, or the horror of an iron lung. What is more, the disease was indiscriminate, hitting emotively mostly at young children. Roth evokes that time and those emotions evocatively, in a small community where nobody knows who (or what) causes the deadly disease and how to avoid it spreading unchecked. Are the playgrounds safe and is Bucky in some way to blame? This novel is narrated by one of the young boys who spent that summer observing events, as the story takes us through a tragic time and it's outcome. Although this is a fairly short novel, there is not a word wasted and it is hard not to be affected by this story of a past time when suspicion and fear raged and a disease caused destruction amongst the children of a community.